An image of a video game controller for an article about E3

The 2021 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) Was Overblown and Underwhelming

This year's disappointing new video game releases and hardware promotions provide further evidence of the conference’s slow decline.
July 4, 2021
7 mins read

Since its inaugural conference in 1995, the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) has been the gaming industry’s leading annual event for major game studios and publishers to promote forthcoming games and hardware to diehard fans and shareholders alike. E3 2021 was the first to be held fully online, as last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic. Fans and consumers were critical of E3 2021 despite high expectations.

The caliber of games, gaming-related media and consoles revealed, however, was not quite the non-stop parade of excitement that was expected. Pre-animated cinematics presented in lieu of any gameplay plagued the convention. Many consumers found this method of drumming up excitement controversial even before the pandemic because it lacks real information about the advertised games. Here’s a quick rundown of what was presented this year at the major publisher conferences.

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Memories of Cyberpunk 2077

Consumers have grown wary of game conferences like E3 in recent years after a number of disappointments from studios that had spent millions of dollars on marketing — money that may have been better invested in the games they produced. The 2020 release of Cyberpunk 2077 is one example of a game studio overpromising and under-delivering, so much so that it spawned a class-action lawsuit from the studio’s disgruntled investors. CD Projekt Red’s previous game, The Witcher 3, was one of the highest-selling games of all time, and the publisher was eminently aware of this as it marketed Cyberpunk 2077.

Unfortunately, Cyberpunk 2077 was so broken at launch that Sony pulled the game from its PlayStation Store within a week of its release. Sony’s unprecedented move resulted in a major blow to sales, which tanked the company’s stock price. Cyberpunk 2077 was returned to the store only on June 21, and even then with a warning from Sony aiming to dissuade PlayStation 4 owners from buying the game due to its still-poor performance on the console. Cyberpunk’s presence at past E3 conferences prompted most of its pre-release hype, which contributed to much of the cynicism seen at this year’s conference.


The joint Bethesda-Microsoft conference was the first major publisher conference of E3, as well as the first conference since Microsoft acquired ZeniMax Media, Bethesda Softworks’ parent company, in 2020. While some long-awaited games such as The Elder Scrolls 6 and Starfield were teased, little in the way of actual gameplay was shown. There were, however, deeper looks at the gameplay of Xbox Game Studios’ Forza Horizon 5 — the latest in the long line of racing games — and some other titles that would be available exclusively on the newly released Xbox Series X.

Microsoft also made a point of showcasing some games by Obsidian Entertainment, another recent Microsoft acquisition, although few new releases were shown. The newest installment in the Halo franchise, Halo: Infinite, was also given ample screen time, showcasing a handful of cinematics from the game’s story campaign as well as a sizzle reel to get people excited about the multiplayer mode. For the first time in the Halo series’ history, the multiplayer component would be free-to-play, a well-received move. Overall, the conference was deemed mostly satisfactory, although fans were disappointed by the continuing trend of cinematic trailers taking precedence over actual gameplay footage.

Square Enix and Capcom

Square Enix and Capcom both delivered short conferences, presenting only a few games. Capcom announced only one or two new releases and Square Enix showed actual gameplay footage for only one new release. Capcom talked predominantly about their recently released game Resident Evil 8, as well as the game’s forthcoming expansions. Square Enix’s conference was similarly maligned; its primary focus was the upcoming Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy game, which took many cues from the Marvel’s Avengers game that Square Enix released last year to lukewarm reviews.

The poor reception that Marvel’s Avengers received was mostly due to its over-monetization and poorly implemented massively multiplayer model, which attempted to squeeze additional payments out of consumers who had already paid for the $60 game. Square Enix tried to assure viewers that Guardians of the Galaxy was completely single-player and thus not taking any cues from Avengers, which would be a significant improvement. However, many fans were still annoyed that so much of the presentation went to this particular game, instead of more broadly focusing on other upcoming releases.

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Perplexingly, Verizon chose to make its E3 debut this year, undoubtedly because of the exponential growth of the video game industry during the pandemic. Its bizarre presentation was clearly aimed at a demographic Verizon wasn’t used to. The wireless company had a number of interviews with esports players and companies, so they trumpeted its investments in the esports gaming community.

Verizon also recently unveiled its sponsorship of Team Liquid, one of the most popular League of Legends esports teams; the business’ partnership with the team was on full display as Verizon talked with the team’s members as well as Riot Games, the creators of League. The event came across as, in essence, an hour-long Verizon Wireless ad.


The company that undoubtedly stole the convention was Nintendo, whose presence at the event had been digital-only well before COVID-19. In its Nintendo Direct presentation on June 15, the company deftly revealed news for several long-awaited games as well as a few surprise releases, such as the first 2D Metroid game to debut in 17 years. Metroid: Dread was rumored to be in development as early as 2005, and because of the long period of silence on Nintendo’s part, the game was thought to have been canceled.

Also revealed was new footage of the sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the Nintendo Switch’s launch titles. Nintendo has (mostly) been good at delivering what fans want, and after an E3 that seemed to be going through the motions, it was more than a fitting sendoff.

It’s difficult for conference organizers to track just how many people watched this year’s E3. If the conference does return to a live format next year, it’s doubtful that attendance will be as high as it had been in past years. With major studios like EA and Sony choosing to host their own events at other times in the year, it seems unlikely that E3 will retain its position as the gaming industry’s can’t-miss spectacle.

Ian Linn, Oberlin College

Writer Profile

Ian Linn

Oberlin College
Creative Writing, Cinema Studies

Hi! My name’s Ian Linn and I am a double major in cinema studies and creative writing at Oberlin College. I greatly enjoy writing about media and how it affects public perception.

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